Monday, December 26, 2011

Eight Years

Dear Husband,
As of today we have been married for eight years. That's almost ten. It has gone by so quickly and yet the milestones that we have created and the trials that we have forged have somehow cemented us together in such a deeper way that I can't even articulate how deep it feels. Can you believe that?!?! I, meeee, am speechless?!?!

You were and still are an intensely private person and I am learning to respect that...kind of. Maybe. So, instead of airing all of my syrupy and scandalous sentiment for you in front of the whole internet (No, I'll save that embarrassing moment for when we're out in public, even MORE fun!), I thought I would just take us on a little walk down memory lane by way of pictures and my running, snarky narrative. You like me best when I'm being "feisty", after all.

Look! Here is the only surviving picture of my 21st birthday (thank you, Kevin!). That is you I'm talking to on the phone (and what a large and cumbersome piece of technology that thing is!), you called to wish me a happy birthday. Awww, it's our first phone conversation. If only you could have seen then that I had drawn a handlebar mustache on the Pope before that was even a cool thing to do, you may have run for your life then and never looked back. We went on our first date the next day and we've pretty much been stuck like glue ever since. Scary Pope mustaches and all. After we expressed our mutual lurve for one another, I promptly told you in no uncertain terms that you had two years to decide whether you wanted to marry me or not. I wasn't going to waste the best years of my face on someone who was up in the air. And guess what? We all know what happened after that! My threat worked! You took me to the location of one of our first dates, deep in the woods of Brown County, far from public view (and that right there is just another demonstration of how personal and private your displays of undying love are), got on one knee and asked me to be with you forever. And I was all: Forevah evah? And you were all: Word. And then I think I cried. Even though I would have proposed (had I been the proposer ) on a step ladder, with a bull horn, in the midst of a flash mob I had arranged just for that occasion, I appreciated the importance of that place in the history of our relationship. It was the place amidst the trees and the birds where I ran screaming from a bee and almost broke my ankle because I was wearing platform heels in the woods. I thought for sure you wouldn't stick around after that great display of mental instability, but nope, you were laughing so hard I started laughing too. And then when you knelt down two years later, I had to stop you before your knee hit the ground because there was a pile of deer poop right underneath it. More spectacular history to add to the tales we tell our children...but wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. There were no children yet.

And so after that happened, this happened. I planned the bulk of our wedding in just five weeks so my brother could attend. We all thought he was going to be sent to Iraq and since he's my only sibling (you know you've got like seventeen, you could spare one or two) he had to be there. You were so adamant about not seeing me before we met in the church that when my dad drove me over there before the ceremony to drop something off and I saw you coming out of the building as we were pulling up, I screamed and hid as far on the floorboard as I could; my seventy three layers of tulle and organza sticking up like an unrolled roll of toilet paper out of the window. We danced, laughed, drank, and were merry. And then you took me away from my mother and father and I spent a large part of that first night crying, feeling like I had been torn apart from people I loved so completely, never to return. Oh, if only I had known then how many times I would return to that place.

HONEYMOON! We ate too much, drank too much, did too much other stuff and were generally exhausted from our hedonistic glutton-fest. As we lay on the bed on the last day of our honeymoon sharing the worst hangover I can ever recall from a $500 bottle of champagne (you'd think at that price it would leave you feeling like you had super powers and a six pack) we still managed to laugh and decided that if we ever started a band (because that's highly likely, right?!) that we would call it Champagne Hangover and I would play the triangle, or maybe the cow bell and you would wear tight leather pants and just generally be hot. It. Would. Be. Epic.

In true Jeremy and Jill (well maybe more Jill) fashion, we picked up a stray on our honeymoon. But how could you blame me? She was all a lonely, and she was SWEDISH! She stuck with us for most of the night through shenanigans untold and then somewhere in my search for J-lo and P-Diddy or whatever his name is now, we lost her. We will never forget you, Little Blonde Swede, and you are totally an honorary member of Champagne Hangover. You can play tambourine.

After all that excitement we had a couple of relatively quiet years. And then...

This happened. It pretty much shook the foundations of our world, but only momentarily. In the midst and shortly after that, so many dear people were lost. It was like we were being hammered into the Earth, each new blow striking us harder than the last. You never really know what a relationship is made out of until it faces a trial. And in the midst of all of the heartbreak, I learned that outside of God, you are my rock, and I am yours. In the darkest hours of our lives we held on to each other and held each other up. I'm sure that last paragraph was enough to make you mad, OVERSHARING! But, like picking up stray people along the way, it's what I do best. LOVE ME FOR IT, not DESPITE it!

The next couple of years were kind of a hazy, pizza colored blur. In a nutshell: We bought a house, it was so empty that we played rocket ship on the living room floor and laughed like little kids. We decided life was too short and uncertain to wait any longer and so I got pregnant. You helped with that. Thanks, umm, for that. I got really huge and unrecognizable, you still pretended to be attracted to me (LIES!), We had a baby, or rather I had a baby as you watched in horror what the female body is capable of. Yeah, that scarred me for life too, except only it literally did. TAKE THAT! TMI! Then so soon after that, you were deployed and I returned home to my parents...again. I got skinny again, you worked out a lot. And finally after eight long months:Reunited and it feels so good. There is your baby (and dude, she is soooooooo your baby) looking at her daddy for the first time in her memory. Small tears.
We became three instead of two and life changed in a much more solid and responsible kind of way. Funny how kids do that to you. We spent the remainder of our time in Mississippi becoming in large part who we are today: a family. We moved to D.C., and then we moved again to a little apartment the size of a shoe box. We rode the metro all the time and felt like big city kids. We saw the White House, The Smithsonisns, walked the National Mall and stared into the huge stone face of Abraham Blinkington much more than once. We endured blizzards, blindness, and the terrible two's and threes of our first child. And in the middle of it all, I remember laughing with you the most. Because even though after all those years when I look at you, I still find you undeniably attractive, that's not what keeps my heart a flutter (OK, so it is partly) it's the way we laugh together that I love the most. On the couch, making fun of the TV, in bed in the dark, laughing about our children, and in the car on any of the very, very long road trips we are so fond of taking. And somewhere in the midst of all the laughter and metro riding and temper tantrums...
I looked at you kind of like this, and then...
this happened. Our little lion. As I type this she is sitting in time out after she got a spanking for throwing a HUGE tantrum because I wouldn't give her a bowl of shredded cheese for breakfast. The scene resembled something like a patient trying to escape their ward on the floor for mentally ill people in a hospital and I was the orderly prying her fingers off of the fridge door as she kicked and screamed and hurled toddler sized obscenities at me. So sweet and so difficult. The child who made us rethink the prospect of having any more. Yet it's funny how despite all the challenges she presents to us, we still manage to laugh about it, because girl is FUNNY, even if she is so so bad. She does take after her mother, after all.

And now here we are, living on a beautiful island, in the middle of the sea. I will limit my public sap to this, and I will even put it in manly terms you can understand and appreciate: You are my best friend...something, something, grunt grunt, point at my heart. I also think you're hot even after all these years, more grunting, here have a beer. You let me buy you pink shirts and you even wear them! For that I will cook you meat over an open flame and pretend to find football interesting!

Seriously though, I know I get pissed off about your seeming inability to put your dishes in the dishwasher and put your dirty clothes in the laundry basket...I mean, C'mon! It's like two feet away from where you threw them on the ground! But in the big picture and in truth, I will pick your underwear up off the floor gladly for the rest of my life if it means we can keep laughing and sharing in this crazy, unpredictable life together. But...I will NOT empty your pockets before I wash clothes, I mean, I have to draw the line somewhere. Even I have standards.

One day, hopefully a very, very long time from now, we will be gone from this Earth. But because of this, in some way, we will live on through these little people we made. And they will continue to tell The Story of Us after we've gone. That's heavy and yet it gives my soul wings.

Thank you for choosing me to be your travelling companion on this journey. I'll wait until right before you fall asleep and then I'll whisper in your ear all of the other stuff I have to say, because I know just how much you love that. MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Island Christmas My Loves!

As I sat and compiled this slide show and all of its photos, I sifted through the last year of our lives in technicolor freeze-frame. I saw the photographic chronicles of our adventures (and what adventures they have been), and I remembered the phrase: It's not the years in your life, but the life in your years. (I think that was Ye Olde Abraham Blinkington as Ellie would call him.)

The laughter we have shared, the love, the music, and the tears. The depth of this human experience is only quantifiable in guttural pangs of the heart that can only be mutually understood if you've been there yourself. And now, as we stand on the doorstep of a new year, ripe with unknown possibilities and adventures, I can't help but imagine what lies ahead for this merry band of voyagers on the ship of Life. I expect more laughter, more heartbreak and eventually more tears, but in the midst of it all, I pray I remember to stop and soak all of those moments in; tucking them gently into the soft corners of my mind. ( Wow, that last sentence was lengthy enough to impress Faulkner!)

Today was our first Christmas on Guam and as I sat watching my children bounce on their new trampoline in the golden, pink-edged haze of sunset; I felt the temperate breeze on my skin and took several deep and heady breaths. I felt a sense of resounding satisfaction and completeness in my soul and despite the mess of boxes and paper inside, I was intensely happy. Even though I know our time here has an expiration date and tomorrow may be wrought with trials unknown, I am hopeful and excited for whatever lies ahead. Even if it is a wall scribbled in sharpie and crayon mashed into the carpet. (PLEASE remind me of that tomorrow when I'm screaming about the sharpie and the crayon.)

Merry Christmas to all of our friends scattered across this big, beautiful world. And may the coming year find you well and blessed, but whatever trials you may face, may you grow stronger and stand taller in their wake.

"God bless us, every one."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Dude

When we found out we were moving to Guam, one of the only things I could say to my children (read: Ellie) to keep them from fuh-reaking out and melting into a puddle of tears and hysteria on the floor was to yell out: PUPPIES! KITTENS! You can have one of each! And after several moments of describing awesome rainbow, fairy dust sprinkled, and glorious adventures to be had with said puppy and kitty, I could eventually talk her off the preschool aged ledge that leads to: The Tantrum of No Return. Of course these fantasies were perfect and in them everyone was wearing wrinkle-free clothing and had perfectly glistening smiles while we played in slow motion in the afternoon sun with our equally perfect puppy and kitty. Because that's how fantasies work, right? Kind of like what you imagine it will be like to have a baby before you actually have one and then you have that perfect baby you imagined and one day some weeks later in a sleepless haze, wearing a breast milk and poop covered shirt you look in the mirror, don't recognize yourself and go: WHOA. This is not exactly what I had envisioned. And then that adorable ball of eating and pooping and sleeping flesh coos at you and bats its glorious eyelashes and you fall in love again and forget your reflection for at least thirty minutes.

So what did we do when we got to Guam? Plan? Shop? Budget? Make lists about goals for our future? Bahaha! WRONG! Well, I just wouldn't be me if I didn't rush right out and immediately locate all the nearest animal-bearing facilities. I found a pet shop and an animal shelter and I scoured the paper every day for weeks looking for the perfect puppy and kitty. The only SNAFU was that we didn't exactly have a house yet. ONE CAN DREAM AT LEAST! At the very least it was a good diversion for my kids while we spent weeks at the hotel waiting for a house. And it kept me away from the pool bar. Side note: As I just typed that I accidentally spelled poop bar instead of pool bar. I can only imagine what THAT would have been like.

Eventually after looking at several pure bred puppies here we decided to rescue a dog from the local shelter. There are a lot of packs of feral dogs roaming around Guam and often times they're in pretty bad shape. We decided it would be better to save a life than have an overpriced pedigree. So we looked and we looked. I walked up and down rows of cages in the scorching sun, sweat dripping down my back, staring into mournful eyes, many of whom I knew would not live to see the next full moon. It broke my heart and I wanted to take them all home with us, but I knew we were only allowed two animals and by God Ellie was getting that KITTEN! So we looked and we looked, in the sun and in the rain. And then one day...I saw him. A fat black puppy too big for Ari to pick up but still little enough to have all the adorable qualities that puppies possess.

When we talked to him he lowered his head sheepishly and licked his lips. We took him to the play area to "test" him out (but in my heart I already knew). He was so well mannered. He didn't jump up on the kids or act aggressively, he was just so gentle. He followed us all around the yard and before we put him back in his cage, I looked into his face and said: You will be mine, oh yes you WILL be mine. He licked his lips and I think he even blushed a little. He watched us walk away with those sad eyes and all the fantasies we had envisioned played out in my head like clips from an old movie. Rainbows! Fairy dust! Sparkling teeth!

We had to wait for a week before our house was ready and we could pick him up. During that time, we discussed potential names. I voted for Stinky Ass Hippie, which Jeremy promptly vetoed citing improper use of profanity. The kids came up with some good ones that I would have loved to see Jeremy yell out angrily as the dog ran in the opposite direction down the street. Names like: Fluffy Buns and Unicorn Head, Poopy Pants and Fart Smeller. While amusing, they just weren't right, although, I may have agreed upon Dingleberry but no one else was going for that. Eventually it was decided that we would go for an old favorite. Jeffery Lebowski, or The Dude. And so he became... Dude.

Just like that fantastical newborn baby, it was all rainbows, fairy dust, and puppy breath at first. And then somewhere between him eating my favorite flip flops like they were a tasty bit of bacon and having explosive bouts of diarrhea for nights on end which resulted in us caring for him through the night like he was a newborn baby I just lost that lovin feeling. I had to remind myself for several days as I spray cleaned the crap out of his kennel through the night that I, we, wanted this gastrointestinally challenged beast with a voracious appetite for things that are not made for doggies to eat. I will now compile a list of his sins for your amusement. As you read this, please (If you have ever seen The Big Lebowski) affect, in your head, the voice of Maude Lebowski.

Bad, Bad, Very Naughty Things The Dude Has Done Since He Became Our Dog:

  1. Chew the laces out of Jeremy's very overpriced and waterproof hiking shoes. BAD DOG!
  2. Hump my leg in your puberty stricken frenzy while I was trying to take a nap on the couch. BAD, BAD DOG!
  3. Sneak into the pantry and eat the crap out of the car's litter box. I CAN SEE THAT LITTER ON YOUR FACE, JEFFERY! You're not fooling me! BAD DOG!
  4. Chew countless toys that did not belong to him. Pink does not suit you, Jeffery, you should really stick to colors that flatter you best. Like, beige.
  5. Bark incessantly at the creaking of my bed on a Friday, Saturday, or perhaps even a Wednesday night. NO ONE IS GETTING HURT, DUDE. I know it may sound like it, but I assure you, everything is juuuuust fine. BAD BOY!
  6. Run away to say hello to the neighbors dog early in the morning while I was still in my robe, thus causing me to run through the grass barefoot and half-clad screaming: DUUUUUUUUDE! YOU ASS! COME BACK HERE!
  7. You made us think that little patch of missing hair on your ear was just a scratch from your prior, wild life. But, no Jeffery, it turned out to be RINGWORM! Which you gave to my children. What did I tell you? To see my Doctor. He's a good man. And thorough. BAD, BAD, DIRTY BOY, DUDE!
I have since come to terms with this animal, though the initial honeymoon may be over. We have come to an understanding, rather I have come to an understanding of him. He's just a Dude, doing things the way dudes do, and I promise to try my very best to love him. We don't want another Jack Johnson on our hands do we? I might even let him lick my hand. Maybe. As long as he hasn't eaten any cat poop recently.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On Christmas

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
~Arthur O'Shaughnessy

I remember myself a child, full of wonder, eyes sparkling like diamonds in the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree. In my bed, on Christmas Eve, unable to sleep for all the anticipation inside my little body. It had been building for weeks, Christmas and all of its magic. My brother and I would search the house over for hidden presents before the big day. Our mother became better at hiding and we became better at snooping. I once asked Jeremy if he and his siblings used to look for their Christmas presents before Christmas, he looked at me, seemingly horrified, and said, "No. Why would anyone ever do that?" And that right there folks is a very good example of just how opposite two people can be and still find each other strangely attracted. I blame Pheromones. The armpit ones. Not the pee ones. That would just be gross.

Anywho, I was a kid, getting all jittery about Christmas, slapping my brother around if he didn't do as he was told, which was: let me sleep with him on Christmas Eve, until he was like fourteen. Now, he may end up denying this, and I will say, he put up a good fight, but until he hit his twenties, I could easily have crushed him, and like I've said before, I lorded my seniority and size over him with an iron fist. And yes, if you were wondering, that HAS in fact come back to haunt me. When he picked up and basically tossed me across the room, I pretty much knew it was time to let him be king for awhile.

You see, Christmas Eve was a very special time for us as little kids. My parents, who were perhaps procrastinators, liked to lock us in a room so they could wrap and put together toys. The reason they locked us in was because they were keenly aware of our stealthy ninja-like super human Christmas spying skills and they knew in order to keep Christmas a surprise we would have to be corralled and locked up like tigers pacing in their cages. But, do not be alarmed Dear Readers, (Awwww, wookie there! Did you miss that? I haven't called you that in awhile.) because this room contained more than just padded walls and straight jackets. Oh yes, we had a TV and a bed in which we were supposed to go to sleep. HA! We laughed in the face of sleep! Sleep was for the weak and less excited, not us.

Usually, after we were locked in our cages, er, I mean, sent to bed, we would occupy our time by generally annoying each other. I might tickle him until he threatened to pee himself, and then when I let go he would inevitably elbow me in the face and I might cry and punch him. Then, there would be tent making with our feet and the covers, maybe some shadow puppets with dirty senses of humor. These shenanigans were intermittently interrupted by some Christmas cartoon watching and our father knocking on the door to give us updates of where Santa had been spotted. Apparently he was getting this information from the news. Which is precisely why I don't believe anything I hear on the news to this day. It was probably CNN. Oh, Amanda, I kid, I kid.

"They've spotted something flying over Chicago," He would yell through the door.

"It's probably an airplane!" we would yell back as we grew older.

And then before long he would return, "Looks like he's getting closer, sleigh bells were heard in Gary, IN. You kids better get to sleep or you're not gettin shit tomorrow!"

"Those were probably gun shots! You know all those people are on the naughty list!"

Ok, so that last conversation probably never actually took place, but in my mind it would have been a whole lot funnier if it had.

Oh how my father loved to see us believe in the magic of Christmas. His eyes would sparkle with mirth as he told us about his childhood Christmases. "You kids are spoiled! When I was your age we got an orange in our stocking and our stocking was just that, a SOCK! Now here we are, stuffing toys inside of them. When I was a kid, a piece of fruit in the winter WAS like candy. Now, gimme some of those chocolates."

And yet despite his miserly talk, he never spared any last thing we wanted, whenever he could. He would watch us open our gifts, making us drag it out one at a time so as to prolong the magic when all we wanted to do was tear into them like animals. He was and is one of the best gift givers I know, truly thinking of the person when making his selections. Daddy, if you're reading this, I appreciate that very much. When all the packages were opened and the mess cleaned up, (because he is an artist with OCD tendencies after all, there could be NO MESS. That would ruin the magic of Christmas!) we would play with our toys and he would play with us. And then we would most likely watch a movie. During what I refer to as "My Dark Period" I suggested Scarface or The Godfather. He obliged and my mother would just go to the kitchen and clean something instead of subjecting herself to that debauchery and violence on Christmas. In more recent years we have begun watching Going My Way with Bing Crosby. It makes for a much more festive holiday movie, and yes, my mom stays in the room to watch it.

And now, here we are, here am I. Years and oceans apart from the memories I made, the memories they made for us. Here I am grown, with a husband, a house and a family of my own. The baton has been passed; we are now the music makers and the dreamers of the dreams. I stand on the other side of the curtain, the one pulling the strings and making the magic happen.

We are the secret keepers,
telling them to shut their peepers.
The early morning wrapping sweepers,
and the unbridled childhood -joy reapers.

I watch as the anticipation I once held for this day now runs through my children just as surely as my blood. My anticipation now lies in wait for the looks on their faces as they open their gifts and squeal with delight. I will tell them about my childhood and how once we were so poor all I got was a hamster and Uncle Gordon too ( and he named it King just like he named ALL his other hamsters), but how we were happy because we were together. And one day, many Christmases from now, their father and I will pass the baton and they will do the same for children of their own.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Life...With a Two Year Old.

Ariane. Ari. The lion. Serves me right for naming her after a fierce creature. She captivates me with her little rabbit teeth and mischievous glimmer and for a moment or two each day I forget the destruction she is capable of wreaking. She smiles and runs past me, golden corkscrew curls bouncing behind her, little chubby feet pad pad patting past. I am caught up in her adorableness. And then I realize with a sinking feeling that prior to her mad dash through the living room, I had enjoyed a blissful 30 minutes of silence. And with Ari, unless she is asleep, silence is never a good sign. I walk in the opposite direction of where she just ran from and enter the kitchen. There is red candle wax smeared across the dog's food bowl and on the floor. A large cinnamon scented candle sits next to the bowl with deep toddler finger sized rivets running through its wax.

For a moment, I see red, and not just the red all over the floor. I. Just. Mopped. The hell with cleaning while that child lives here! I march through the house and find her crouched down in her room playing with a handful of glow in the dark dinosaurs. They're talking to each other. Apparently they can't decide on a suitable location to have dinner. One wants McDonald's and one wants tacos. I stand over her and ask, "Ari, why is there candle wax all over the floor and dog's bowl?"

She looks up at me, her two front teeth sticking out over her bottom lip. I catch a flash of dastardly mischief cross her eyes and she says, "Coz, Dude was hongwy."

"But Ari, do dogs eat candles?"

"When day hongwy day do."

"Ari, was that your candle?"

She gets up and runs out of the room yelling as she goes, "WHAT? I can't hear you?"

I can't help but laugh.

She wears a pink tutu and matching pink high heels nearly every day and has been known to spontaneously break out in multiple twirling sessions, "I'm a ballet. I'm doin ballet. See, watch me dance." And then she raises her arms and propels herself in a circle on one heeled foot. She catches herself before she hits the ground and smiles. "See! Dat was fun!"

"Let me spin you," I say. And I pick her up and twirl her around and around. I can feel the laughter begin in her belly and make it's way up her throat like bubbles in champagne.

"AGAIN!" And her eyes shine with delight. I spin her over and over until I am dizzy and giddy with her. I fall back on the couch and we breathe heavily in between our giggles. I tickle her and she screams. I can fit my whole hand over her stomach and heart. I love the softness of her toddler skin and how her stomach still sticks out like she just ate Thanksgiving dinner. Every day. I let her go and she runs past me into the playroom. I marvel at her and want to freeze this moment in time. But it keeps ticking, the minutes at times dragging by and the years speeding past.

Later that day we are going through a box of my old photographs and Ellie finds one of me from a dance in High School. "Who is THAT guy?!" She asks with gritted teeth.

"Just some guy I went to a dance with. I can't even remember his name," I tell her.

"Well, I don't like him. He is disgusting."

"Yeah, I totally agree. Daddy is way more handsome"

Ari picks up the photo and as she has a way of doing lately, mimics her sister in words and tone. She points to me in the picture and says, "Dat guy is dis-gus-tin. He is gwoss! I don't wike him!"

"Ari, that one is ME!", I say, but again I can't help laughing. She looks at me, then the picture, then at me again.

She smiles, "Noooooooo, dat is not you Mama."

Oh, boy, I think. I'm never going to break out those awful junior high photos then.

She catches all manner of animals, bugs, and everything else that freaks me out. "Wook, I got a wizard!"

"A wizard?!" I ask, "Will you name him Gandlaf? Or maybe Dumbledore?"

'Noooooo, siwwy, his name is Mr. Wizard."


The other day she grabbed a giant black sea cucumber (which happen to look just like a horse penis...if you've never seen that, whatever you do, DO NOT google it. I can't be responsible for any images that pop up and rob you of your innocence) She picked it up and cradled it in her arms and said. "Awwww Mommy, wook, it's my baby pet dolphin. Shhhhhhh, he sweepin." And then she started to carry it towards the car. To. Take. Home. To live with us, wherein she would hug him and pet him and squeeze him and name him George. I could not convince her to let it go, it WAS her baby pet dolphin after all. "Ari, you have to put him back. He can't breathe. He's going to die."

"Awwwww, aw-wight." And she put it back in the water.

I wash her, brush her curls, read Brown Brown Brown Bear or Go dog, Go and put her in bed. I kiss her forehead and tell her I love her. "I wub you too Mama. You is my mommy, and you are my teacher. And I am your baby. Am I your baby, Mama?"

I lean in and whisper into her ear, "Yes, I am your mama, and yes, you are my baby. You are ALWAYS my baby."

"Yeah", she says, "Dats wight, Mama."

And all the sins and markers on the wall and wax on the floor are forgotten, or at least remembered with laughter. Tomorrow will be a new day fraught with new disasters only a two year old can produce. But I am her mama, and she is my baby, and we'll find a way to laugh through them. Well, I'll find a way. She'll already be laughing and running, golden curls bouncing behind her.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Letter to My Daughter On Her Birthday

Dear Elsbeth,
Yesterday you turned five years old. That's a whole handful of fingers. Soon you'll have to start using two hands when you tell people how old you are! It's been a long time since I've written to you or about you on this space. Most of your daily quips and witticisms are so succinct they seem perfectly tailored for Facebook, so that's where I share most of the joy, frustration, and laughter you add to our lives.

Just like when I used to stare into your face as an infant and ponder the depth of your soul and question the child you would turn into; I do the same thing now but wonder about the young lady and eventually the woman you will become. There are moments when you laugh or the sun catches your hair just right that I feel like I can almost see you, the grown you. It's at once both beautiful, breathtaking and heartbreaking. I think you will only understand the complexities of emotions a mother can have all at once when you have a child of your own. You want ten by the way. You told me the other day that you were going to be a dentist. For mermaids. When I asked you who would take care of your ten children while you were making all those mermaids have perfect smiles, you replied: My husband. He'll stay home with them. And then you informed me that you would still be living with us because we should never be parted. Ever. In that instant I remembered being your age and the thought of leaving my mother could instantly bring tears to my eyes. Now look at me. Thousands of miles away. But I didn't mention that to you then. I said, of course we'll be together. Forever. Forevah evah.

I hope when you are grown and looking back on your childhood you will not mind that I shared so much of your personal life with the world. I only do it because you are so infinitely precious and precocious. You are a beautiful mystery to me. It is so strange to grow a child, give them life from your own body, your own blood, and then to nourish and sustain them with your own body. It is an intimacy that parallels marriage, except its mysteries of love are more profound. I grew you, my love. We walked, slept, ate, breathed; existed as one for so many months. And after I gave you life, and knew the you that you are now, it mystifies me how utterly different from me you really are. How did we share my body for so long and yet the traits we share are so minimal? You are your father.

I remind your father of this constantly. When you walk past, I say: There you go. You with a vagina. You have his eyes, his skin, the legs that he has always hated, but that I always coveted and the legs I always prayed you would get. Well girlfriend (that's your favorite thing to call me these days), you got those supermodel gams. And yet, you are so innocently unaware of your beauty, it is profound. Your eyes shine like diamonds when you laugh and you tell me you think your voice sounds like a boy. I want to hold you and caress your face and tell you of the beauty you possess, but at the same time I'm afraid. I know the power it will wield one day and I pray that you will use it carefully. Beauty is beguiling, but it is also fleeting. I remind you occasionally that the most beautiful girls are ones that demonstrate kindness. And when you're unkind to your sister or the cat, I pull out some of my southern vernacular and tell you you're being "ugly". Because that's what it is, really.

Recently, I wrapped a gauzy topaz sarong around your slender frame and tied it on your neck. I told you that you were an indian princess You stood in the full length mirror in my room for over five minutes, smiling at your reflection and turning this way and that admiring the dress on yourself. It's one of your favorite things to wear now. And I let you, as often as you want. I let you wear princess dresses out in public still too. And as a matter of fact when we went to the movies yesterday, just you and I, I let you dress me. You picked out the highest heels in my closet and a dress that I had purchased to wear to your Uncle Kyle and Aunt Kirsten's wedding. You wore a floor grazing maxi dress and wrapped yourself in the sarong. I put blush on you and some sparkles on your eyes. It felt decadent and for a minute I envisioned a flash of our future together. The one where I teach you how to coordinate outfits and colors and how to do your makeup. I was so sure I would have boys since your daddy has so many brothers, but I am so thankful that you are a girl.

This post would not be complete without the whole picture of who you are now. At five. Our days are not without their battles. You possess a will to match my own and there are moments when I feel like we are a pair of tigers circling each other, growling. Fortunately, I am still the bigger one so I always win, but I know this may be a temporary thing. That scares me. I have always told you the truth. Some people disagree with me for that, but here is the truth now. I'm scared for you to become a teenager. When you whip your hair around and glare at me, I fear the future. And Ellie, I don't fear things. Sharks, OK. Heights, sure. But life, never. I implicitly trust that God is taking care of us and guiding us. But when see you and the defiance that you can occasionally posses, I see myself at 19 and I am so afraid for you to make the same mistakes that I did. I pray almost every day that you will grow into an adult without following the same self destructive path that I did. I look at you, full of innocence, oblivious to the evils of the world and I see the perils that lay before you. Perils I fell for hook line and sinker. When I see my past with your face on it, I want to cover your eyes and your heart, but I can't.

I was telling your grandma about this the other day. She is so wise Ellie, I hope she lives forever. She reminded me that she prayed the same things for me and that I ultimately still chose the path that I did. But guess what? It made me who I am today. And I wouldn't change that for the world.

My Elsbeth, the other day you told me you wanted to change your name to Megan. I said OK, and started calling you Megan. You paused and asked me why I had named you Elsbeth to begin with. (I had been waiting for this moment. Except it didn't happen the way I had always envisioned. The real scenario occurred just after I got out of the shower, wrapped in a towel and your sister was hopping on that infernal blue thing she endearingly calls "Hopper", so the whole time we were talking, there was this puck, puck, puck sound happening). I said to you: Your name means Consecrated to God. I picked it because you were a beautiful gift that He gave us, and I wanted to promise your care and upbringing right back to him. Elsbeth. It's like Elizabeth, except it's so not. People will never get it right. Expect that for the rest of your life, but relish it. Your name is so unique that most people have never even heard it. After I told you this, you said: Mommy, I want you to call me Ellie again. And so I did. As you wish.

I love you Elsbeth Asher Hayes. I am your mother, the one and only. You are my baby, always and forever. Even when I am buttoning your wedding dress or holding your first child; you are my baby. I love your heart. I love your eyes. I love the little woman residing in your tiny body. Every day with you is a gift and as we cuddled together in my bed today and discussed the character traits of Mother Gothel from the Tangled movie, I tried to capture every detail of that moment in my heart. The way my whole body was the big spoon to your baby spoon; your toes meeting my shins. The way you still can't make the TH sound, but how you still seemed an expert on the subject we were discussing. I brushed your hair with my fingers and it lay upon my chest like a fan. I wondered how many more years of this I had and my heart broke a little at the thought of losing these moments. But such is the beauty and pain of being a mother. You made me this, a mother. Thank you. You took the girl I was and changed her into a woman. I hope I can do such a job with you.

You are five. You are precious. You are loved.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

How It Is

It's Thursday, December first and I have a sunburn from playing too long at the beach yesterday. A beach so beautiful and water so pale blue I don't think I could ever tire of looking at it.'s December, and I'm not vacationing on some tropical island. I live here. I. Live. On. An. Island. In. The. Middle. Of. The. Pacific. Was that enough pronounced pauses for you to get my point across? Good. Because I. Like. Doing. That.

It's easy for me to become so swept up in the every day details that I forget to stop and My life has been so rushed, so seemingly hurried and shuffled from one place to the next for what seems like forever, living in limbo. And then we finally got our house and I got sick. SO sick I had to leave this island almost as soon as I got here. Leave it with boxes yet unpacked and shelves yet unstocked. In limbo again, my health and sight now balancing on an invisible tightrope that only God could see. When I finally came back, I was still recovering and taking huge doses of pills every day...and not the fun kind. Everything became so overwhelming, all the boxes, all the pills, all the children and animals underfoot. I couldn't breathe; I couldn't hear myself think.

All the familiar lifelines I used when my husband was at work were now on the other side of the world, sleeping when I needed to call someone the most. There were a few days when I almost lost what I felt was an already precarious grip on my sanity. I hurt all over; the sadness that I knew was from the prednisone felt crushing and oppressive. I cried and ate a lot of ice cream. And then I cried because I had eaten a lot of ice cream. I felt waves of guilt for taking out my own problems on my family. You always hurt the ones you love. And then...

Slowly, almost unnoticeably, because it was so gradual, I began to feel better. I didn't cry over spilt milk any more, I just went back to yelling about it. I got out of bed and could straighten my back right away. This might sound funny, but you should have seen me before. I looked like your octogenarian grandpa..with teeth. I could go outside again without fear of my skin instantly burning from all of the medicine I was taking.(SIDE NOTE: I so kind of wished I could go out in the burning sun while on that medicine and see my skin begin to smoke under the sun and yell out to a gawking crowd: SEE! Vampires burn, they don't sparkle! We BURRRRRRRRRNNNNNN! What a cruel world, what a world!!!!) Because I wasn't taking it any more. HURRAY!

So often I want things to happen instantly. My house put together. To feel better. To be happy right now. But life just doesn't work that way and it always has a way of teaching me patience. Of taking one day, one step at a time. And so now that's what I'm doing. Just. Being.

I wake up as the sun is rising over the hill, the sky a gradient blue. The breeze blows through the palms and they rustle, sounding like rain. Somewhere in the jungle just outside the fence, a rooster tells the world it's a new day. Nature's alarm clock. I stand on my hill, barefoot, in the yard of my house. My bare feet wet and my robe blowing around my knees. It's December. I have a sunburn. I have a house. I have a yard. I can see out of both of my eyes. There is so much love in my life that my eyes spontaneously leak when I see moments of happiness and demonstrations of kindness. My friend Rachel would call this "small tears".

I think of Rachel, and all the people I love, many of them so very far away. It is the only thing that makes this experience bittersweet. I don't think I know what life could be like without a little pain. I have almost come to appreciate it. I think about my mom, my dad and there is an ache in my heart. The space and water between us seem impossible to breach. And yet there is a peace in my heart right next to the place where it hurts. Because I know this is the place I'm supposed to be. This island. This time. Right now.

They say that living on this island can make or break a marriage. I think it's making mine. We have stood barefoot once again, in the dark, with our arms around each other and our heads bent back gazing at the stars more times than I can count. Together we watch our children, our children, play in a yard we have pined for for so long, and they seem to grow before our very eyes. We catch each other's gaze and the weightiness and beauty of these small moments seem to pass through us simultaneously. We smile at each other, never having to say a word, because we just. Understand. This. Is. It. Our life. The life we sat on the porch and imagined when we were 21. These are the children we wondered about. They have your eyes. This is growing old with you. It's so beautiful it hurts me and any words I could try to summon would fall short of the depth that connects our hearts.

Small tears.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ye Olde Writing Experiments: A Tale of Two Toys

*You might just like it if you press play first, then again, you might not.

today I was looking for something (what, I can't even remember because THAT'S how easily sidetracked I am. For example right now I'm supposed to be cleaning the rest of the house, but I'm NOT.) in a drawer of paper and notebooks and I happened upon my old notebook that I used for the DC Writer's Group. Because I am so easily distracted, I picked it up and a pang of nostalgia plucked at my heart. I remembered putting on my red coat with the fur collar, my black leather opera gloves from the thrift store, grabbing my metro card and walking the three blocks to the Metro from our apartment. I remembered getting off at Dupont Circle amidst the crowds of people, people I could just look at forever with their glasses and their funny shoes and their pretty faces.

In my mind I walked the eight blocks to the little coffee shop above the used furniture store, soaking up the sounds and smells of the city. I walked up the creaking wooden stairs, next to the wall heavy laden with flyer's proudly announcing the latest artistic ventures of all the local creative minds. How I miss those people, how I miss that place in time. And then I opened up the faded black cover of the big Moleskine notebook and began to read my own words in my own scribbled hand from years ago.

I cried, and then I laughed, and then I cried again. It was like reading someone else's book, someone else's thoughts. I felt so distant from the person who wrote all those stories and words, like a best friend who has suddenly stopped being your friend without saying why. And then I realized why. Because I kept pushing her away. I'm busy. I have too much to do. I'm sorry, not today, maybe tomorrow. We'll write tomorrow. Eventually, she just stopped coming around. Where nostalgia had been, I now felt a pang of guilt. I have been so busy taking care of everyone, everyTHING else, I have failed my creative self. So, I put the bucket of cleaning supplies down, right in the middle of the floor. My very own show of rebellion against, THE MAN. Whatever that means. But whatever that meant, I was going to write, dammit! I was going to get my friend back! The friend that IS me. I haven't been a good friend to myself and I vowed to change that.

So, I made myself a cup of coffee, plugged into iTunes, and tried to reconnect with that side of me that I appreciate so much, but is sometimes so hard to find. Nell Harper Lee wrote only one book, but that book was To Kill a Mockingbird. If I only ever do one beautiful thing with my gift, my only hope is that it touches people in the heart, and that it takes hold of them and puts down roots and grows until the beauty spills out and that person shares it with someone else. We've all read books like that, books that we can't forget, that change the way we think, the very essence of what we believe. There is so much ugliness in the world, so much hate; we are bombarded with it every day. My only hope is that I will find a way to use what I have to be a light in the darkness. And that begins with this: me and blank screen.

I vow here and now, publicly, before the faceless masses, to finish what I started and create the work I began before we moved. I vow to take more time for myself to write even if that means that the laundry doesn't get put away for another day or the shoes aren't all lined up (GASP!), or the kids go unbathed (juuuuuuuuust kidding). I guess that means I have to get to it then!

In the meantime, I'd like to share with you over the next week a couple of the writing exercises we worked on that I didn't share previously. The rules for the exercise were to write a story about the props brought in (I brought them this time) and you had fifteen minutes in which to write.

Here are the props:

This one is called: A Tale of Two Toys

A bare leg slid from the edge of the table and hung down, revealing foot with no toes and joints held together with tiny screws. It was followed by another leg, just as plastic as its predecessor.
"Help!" A tiny voice called out. "It's too far of a drop, I'll break if I do it!"

"Honestly," another voice replied, "what do you want me to do? I have no legs, how am I supposed to help you?"

"Well," the little doll said, " you have wings, can't you fly over here or something? I mean, aren't you supposed to have magic powers? You are a mythical beast, albeit a tiny, finger puppet sized one."

"Well, I just left the toy store yesterday and I've never tried," said the Pegasus. "But, OK, let me give it a try." And with that he began to furiously beat his tiny golden wings. He hovered above the table for a second and then he shot straight up and began to spin in circles like a whirly-gig. "Help! I can't control myself, I'm too top heavy!"

"That's what she said!" laughed the doll, for in truth, she was a tartish little thing , her mother having been one of those Barbies with the really short skirts that only cost five dollars and anyone can have.

She reached up from the table and grabbed both sides of the little flying horse. "I have a plan," she said. I'm going to stick my head inside of you (for he was quite a hollow thing, save the mound of cotton fluff packing his muzzle) and hold on to your arms, then you can fly us both down off of the table Just remember, as soon as we hit the ground, we have to run, er, fly as fast as we can back to the playroom. The baby's loose and I don't want her gumming me again. She swallowed my pants and shoes the last time she got a hold of me." And with that the doll plunged her head up the empty space of the Pegasus.

"Ouch! Don't wiggle so much!" he cried as the doll tried to get comfortable without the use of her eyes. Then he flapped his wings and they were airborne. He maneuvered them across the table top and slowly lowered the doll to the ground. She quickly pulled her head out and yelled, "Now...RUN!"

Side note: I could really have kept going with this one, but I ran out of time. It's something I may revisit later. After all, those little dolls belong to my children. And do you want to know something? To this very day, that little doll still has not put any pants or shoes on. Apples don't fall far from their trees, do they?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

And I Didn't Even Require Sedation

While we try to teach our children all about life,
Our children teach us what life is all about.
~Angela Schwindt

Today I devised a radical experiment in parenting brought about by a desire to stop focusing on things that aren't really important. Please, read and watch on.

Here were the terms:
1) We could do whatever they wanted as long as it didn't jeopardize any one's safety.
2) That's the only rule. Pretty simple, huh?

The following is an account of the day that developed.

Woke up at 6:45

Ate cupcakes for breakfast shortly after 7:00

The girls only ate the icing off of the tops of their cupcakes and fed what remained to the dog, wrappers and all. He ate it, wrappers and all.

It was decided we should go to the playground. A stuffed cat, a wagon, a naked baby doll, and two glasses of orange juice were deemed necessary.

It started raining. Ellie and I played patty cake with our feet while we waited for the rain to stop. That was her idea. My back made funny cracking sounds. I realized I'm getting old.

Someone suggested we look for rainbows. Almost immediately we found one.

It stopped raining. So...

We went to the playground and played hopscotch, rode the tire swing, looked at giant spiders, swung on the swings, and pretended to be pirates.

When sweat started making rivers down my body and black clouds loomed on the horizon, I convinced them to head home to our "Pirate Castle" where glorious treasure awaited.

We made it approximately 10 feet from the playground when they insisted we stop to pick flowers.

Ellie informed me that her stuffed kitty loved those kind of flowers, which just so happened to be called Chameleon Flowers. Apparently they will sneak away and hide if one does not watch them ever so carefully.

Finally made it home where Ari announced she was hungry for eggs. I decided to make frittata. Ellie drew a picture and taped it to the fridge with copious amounts of tape, relishing the freedom of her indulgence.

Ari found a cup and demanded more juice. What could I say? I gave her some.

Ellie wanted to take pictures with her camera. Particularly pictures of the TV.

I still hadn't gotten to the frittata. It was 9:10

At 9:30 while we were waiting for the frittata, it was mutually decided that we should eat a piece of chocolate. Then another. And well, you know where this is headed.

Ate frittata ( approximately three bites each) and decided to make Halloween crafts of spiders fashioned from egg carton and pipe cleaner and pumpkins from toilet paper rolls
Ari ran away to watch cartoons.

Ellie made Jesus out of orange and green construction paper and tacked him to the bulletin board.

We danced in circles.

Ellie ran away to watch cartoons.

Someone decided we should play baseball so we headed back outside. I only kind of cleaned up. You see, I was trying really hard not to worry about that stuff.

While outside, Ari ran away with Ellie's stuffed cat, who had been napping peacefully on a blanket placed on a tree root.

We scolded her.

She threw dirt at us.

We stared into the jungle and pondered how many spiders were in it. Too many, that's how many.

Ari practiced her "Balance Talents" on the roots of a tree.

No one ever played baseball. I was kind of relieved.

At 12:45 it was decided we should all go to Pizza Hut. Dressed as princesses. Yes, even ME. Ellie wanted me to wear my wedding dress since it was the closest thing I had to a real princess dress but I told her I couldn't reach it, so she settled on dressing me in a vintage handkerchief hem sun dress and some rhinestone heels...and a crown.

After they ate pizza, they insisted we go straight to Yogurtland. I obliged even though I was skeptical that they could eat any yogurt, but they ate the whole thing!

In the middle of our Yogurt, Ari screams, I'M ABOUT TO PEE MY PANTS!!! (technically, she wasn't wearing any pants, but I didn't point that out) After a frantic trip to the bathroom where a bladder crisis was narrowly averted, we finished our yogurt.

It was then decided we should go on a search for Ellie's Halloween costume. We ended up at a store that was decorated with some mildy scary creatures. Ari called a Skeleton Pirate "Captain" while protectively holding us all back from said "Captain".

When we walked out the door it set off a rattling skeleton that made all of us jump and Ari scream.

In the car Ari informed us that if we would simply put Jesus in our back packs, then the captain couldn't get us. Noted and filed.

We had a dance party in the car. I think I pulled my neck and I very possibly saw a shoe fly past my head.

Went to one more Halloween store and then meowed like cats all the way home.

They wanted to do my makeup. So I let them. Ellie painted purple eyeliner on my mole calling it a pimple and assuring me that she had now made me "pretty". She did all of this while dressed as a black cat.

There was a "situation" involving glitter.

It wasn't pretty.

The dog came running home from somewhere down the street. I never even knew he was gone.

Ellie rode her scooter down the driveway into the grass. She got hurt and ran inside. Ari followed her screaming: SISTER! DON'T DIE!!!

I taught Ellie the rhyme: Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat. If you don't, I don't care. I'll pull down your underwear.

We laughed until we cried and I had a nagging feeling that this was going to come back and haunt me at a most inopportune time.

Ellie then drew a picture of what I think was supposed to be a peacock. It raised many questions in my mind.

Meanwhile, Ari left her baby alone on a table outside, but she assured me she would be fine since she had provided her with plenty of snacks...and lotion.

They watched a movie and demanded libations and macaroni and cheese.

Jeremy came home and informed me I looked like I had been attacked by a posse of clowns.

I ran away to take a shower and while in the bathroom saw my toothbrush with toothpaste still on it and realized I had forgotten to brush my teeth. All day. EW.

When I got out of the shower everyone was crying. Even Jeremy. Just kidding. Everyone ELSE was crying. Ellie renounced her sisterhood with Ari.

Ari ran outside crying. In her underwear.

I walked past a mirror and realized that even though I had washed my face THREE TIMES in the shower, my nose was still covered in hot pink lipstick.

As the girls finished their movie their eyes were heavy and they sunk lower and lower into the sofa. It was 6:30.

I fed them their macaroni and it was unanimously decided that we should make this a regular event.

Jeremy put them to bed with minimal tears. From the kids, not Jeremy.

In the words of Ice Cube: It was a good day.

Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices?
I've heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound that called the young sailors.
The voice might be one and the same.
I've heard it too many times to ignore it.
It's something that I'm supposed to be.
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

No, Actually Heather, the Devil Poops Prednisone

Moon Face. Buffalo Hump. Truncal Fat. No, I'm not making these words up, they are just a few of the physical side effects of my arch nemesis: Prednisone. What the heck is "Truncal" anyway? I'm guessing it's that cushy little muffin top I've developed in the two and a half weeks I was on Prednisone. I've also got a little moon face and buffalo hump going on. Let's just say I'm not feeling my very best.

This drug is no joke and if it weren't for the seriousness of the circumstances under which it is prescribed to me, I would NEVER take it again. The doses that I am put on initially are higher than anyone I've ever heard of or read about and in those first couple weeks (while I'm on it) I feel great. I have loads of energy, feel pretty happy, and my vision begins to clear up. And then...

When taking Prednisone, you have to be tapered off of it because your body stops making Cortisol (the stress hormone) after two weeks and becomes dependent on it. This is the tricky part. The last time the doctors took longer to taper me off of it and decreased the dosage slowly. This time around it was all done within a week. I didn't think much of it, just following doctors orders, until the first day off of it as I stood in my kitchen and started shaking all over. That was just the beginning of the party.

I think in the course of a couple of hours I had cried, screamed at everyone several times ( probably because their shoes weren't all lined up neatly in a row {wink wink}), had a near panic attack, and then felt more tired than I had years. I lay down at 5:00 and was in bed for the night. Look at me! I'm a party and a half! Throw in some Geritol and I'm your Grandma!

The next day was pretty much the same except that the anger and waves of rage had subsided and were replaced with good old fashioned melancholy. I felt like Eyeore, and I can't stand Eyeore. In the back of my mind I knew it was all from the medicine but it just felt so much more extreme than last time.

But then again, who really knows what happened during that episode. Time is like a rock polisher and my memories are the rocks placed inside the vault of time. It spins and spins and as the memories tumble through time their edges are softened and their surfaces become smooth. A funny little story to tell the children and a page in family lore. I seem to forget all the heartache and pain and everything seems not so bad. Just like child birth. But right now. Right. Now? It sucks.

I went to the doctor to see if there was any other medicine they could give me to offset this awful come down ( which can last months) and he basically told me to suck it up. I'm going to be OK. It will be a gradual process and I won't just all of the sudden wake up one day and magically feel better, but it WILL happen. And while I kind of knew all of this already, it was comforting to hear a professional confirm that I am not losing my mind, that what I've been through is traumatic to my body and that there are serious side effects to some of this medication. Like Buffalo Hump. Or losing your mind.

When did everything become soooooo serious?!?!

I remember lying on the grass outside my friend Jennifer's parent's house in Jackson, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. I had no home to return to, no clothes, no stuff. I just was. There was no water and no electricity. So we sat outside on the grass, underneath the scorching Mississippi sun and we laughed. We laughed about nothing and everything. I made shadow puppets on the wall and talked in silly voices and we laughed some more. Because sometimes, that's all you can do. Or else you'll cry.

As I sat on the couch in my pool of sadness, some of it a side effect of the medicine, some of it my own doing, I wondered how I had drifted so far from the girl who laughed and made shadow puppets on the wall. What had changed in me to make me so different? It seemed ironic that as time softened my memories, life's bumps seemed to have hardened my being. But then I remembered something that made me smile and forget about the truncle fat for a little while. I remembered what I already knew. And that's what remembering is really, isn't it? Recalling something we have forgotten. It was this: I may have no control over my circumstances. And often I don't. But I do have control over my attitude. So I choose to be happy.

Even when my body is telling me otherwise: that I'm sad, that I can't get out of bed, that I'm not going to be ok, I will tell it shut it's moon face right up. That doesn't mean I don't listen to the physical things. Yeah, I learned that the hard way the other day when I met with my trainer and did what would have been a fairly easy hour workout pre-this whole mess. Near the end my body started shaking and I began to feel dizzy. I threw up twice and was in bed with nausea and migraines for most of the day afterwards. So, yes I'll listen to my body, just not when it tells me lies about myself.

So I lounged in a hammock with my girls and we laughed about nothing and everything. I talked in silly voices and they made up their own and we laughed some more. A few moments out of time but eternal in the lessons learned from them.

I know this healing process is a slow one. But my hope is that I can remember to take each day and within each day, each challenge, both physical and mental, and overcome them with objective thought. And laughter. Lots and lots of laughter. And maybe some shadow puppets.

Friday, September 23, 2011

You May Henceforth Refer to Me as Bionic Pirate Lass

Hello from San Diego! I travelled back in time this week and actually got to experience not one, but TWO Thursday's! An experience I think everyone should have at least once in their lives, Thursday is, after all, a very under appreciated day of the week. It's practically the gatekeeper of the weekend, and I for one think we should show Thursday's a little more respect, mmmmm, kay?

I left Guam in the wee hours of the morning on Thursday the 21st and hopped on a seven and a half hour flight to Honolulu. During that flight I watched several consecutive hours of House AND CSI all while sitting next to a large man who smelled as if he had bathed in a mixture of his own vomit, tequila, and possibly several of those bottles of cologne from Abercrombie. Now, you might not think this so bad, we've all been there, right? Ummmmm, speak for yourself. The combination of all the medication I'm taking plus the fact that I had forgotten to specify gluten free meals for the flight meant this girl was just. on. the. verge. of upchucking on Tequila Guy. Turbulence plus pharmaceutical cocktail plus empty stomach just isn't the party it used to be, folks.

I managed not to spew. WHEW! I had a three hour layover in Hawaii and made a BEE LINE for the Starbucks. The guy behind the counter kept giving me really strange looks because, well, I'm not sure he had ever seen a giddy female pirate before. I understand the whole eye patch thing is a lot more catchy if I scowl, but you know, just not much of a scowler. As I savored every last delicious drop of my overpriced coffee, I became somewhat of an attraction for passing children. I guess smiles and a coffee buzz make for an approachable pirate. And NO, I did not ARGH! at any of them.

After that I have only three words for you: Pulled Pork Nachos.

The flight from Honolulu to San Francisco lasted about five and a half hours and this time I sat next to ANOTHER guy who reeked of his own stew of debauchery and body odors. Maybe the meds make my sense of smell more powerful. Which, by the way, it IS a scientific fact that women DO have a better sense of smell than men. If I were a super hero my emblem could be a giant Schnoz and I could solve crimes related to which Subway employee didn't wash their hands after using the bathroom. On second thought...maybe not. All I'm saying is: GUYS! Cleanse thyselves! Especially before you know you're going to be crammed like sardines in between a bunch of strangers. Once again though, I did not puke. There were some close moments though.

The last flight from San Francisco was only an hour and I had a whole row to myself, which, it turns out, is not as comfortable as it sounds. For the first time in about 17 hours I did sleep for a few minutes. I grabbed my bag and hopped a shuttle to the rental car dealership where I quickly realized I was in NO condition to be driving. I don't know, maybe it was something to do with the combination of sleep deprivation, medicine and the lack of a use able eye, but I was all: DUDE! WHOA! Did you just see that monkey fly past us? No? Whaaaaaa?!?! So I grabbed a cup of coffee and waited for my Mom to come in on the shuttle and take over the driving duties. Really, I prefer to be driven anyway.

Before I go onto to more mildly exciting details, let me just say: I LOVE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA! I always have, I always will. OK, now that I got that out there to the faceless masses I can stop randomly hugging strangers. I think it's starting to scare them.

So after I scooped up mi Madre, although, I guess technically she scooped me up, (WHICH WAS AWESOME BY THE WAY! MY MOMMY! ALL TO MYSELF! YAY!) we went to the Naval Hospital and waited for a very. long. time. to be seen. Don't get me wrong, I am NOT complaining. I am super thankful that they were able to work an already packed patient load around so that I could be seen. It's just that we looked rather pathetic slumped into each other asleep in the waiting room while all the octogenarians practically ran circles around us. Have I mentioned before that retinal problems are usually the affliction of the aged? No? Well, they are. Consequently, I am almost always the youngest person in the waiting room. So, it kind of goes without saying that I am well versed on all the latest issues of AARP and Birds and Blooms magazines.

When it was my turn to be seen it went kind of like it always does. One doctor had a look and then he was all: Hmmmmmmmm. Which inevitably led to all the other doctors wanting to have a look, which then turned to more hmmmmmm'ing and tilting of my head and bright lights shining into the back of my eye. That was fun!

The retinal specialist was the last to have a look. He confirmed what we already knew (that this is a reactivation of an old infection) and said that basically I have "satellite" infections or scars by the old ones and that the cataract isn't surprising considering the amount of inflammation I've had in my eye in combination with the amount of steroids I've had to take. Geez, you know, I sure do wish I had some muscles to show for all this steroid use, instead all I have is a moody disposition and increased munchies. Speaking of munchies, guess what kind of prescription I've threatened to get while I'm here in CA? I'm unna do, I'm not kidding. Ok, so maybe I am.

After everyone had a look, we discussed some possible treatment options. The retinal doctor added a couple more medications to my already impressive stash and said we needed to give it all a few months to work on the inflammation, because as I already know, that is a slow healing process. He told me that yes, surgery is an option later if the debris in the back of my eye doesn't clear up. A surgery to remove the cataract is also an option, but that would be a separate procedure since they are both pretty serious operations. We talked about our family's desire to have more children and the likelihood of that situation bringing on more infections. He told me that we could seek prophylactic treatment preemptively. And even though I know what the word prophylactic means, I couldn't help but giggle to myself as I pictured my eye with a giant condom dangling from it while I waddled around pregnant. People would be all: WHAT THE?!?! And I'd say: Just providing my eye some "protection" people, nothing to see here. He felt confident that, under normal circumstances, I could be treated in Guam with the standard course of meds in the event I have another reactivation. I guess at this point I'm OK with that as LONG as there WILL be a doctor there who can treat me.

So now he wants me to give the medication a few days to take effect (providing nothing new happens) and see me again on Monday. Which means: LORI AND JILL EAT, I MEAN TAKE SAN DIEGO! We will have three beautiful days to spend together, just my mom and myself (which hasn't happened in I can't even tell you how long). I miss my husband and my kids terribly, that separation, that very far separation is by far the most difficult part of this whole journey. But...this glass IS half full, as a matter of fact, this glass runneth over. And I am happy. Nothing can steal my joy. Because it isn't dependent upon my circumstances; it comes from a deep well within my soul. One that never runs dry. And that's all I got to say about that.

Thank you everyone for all the kindness and love and support over the last few days. I have the greatest friends and family, and I am thankful for ALL of you.

Monday, September 19, 2011

When Life Hands You Lemons

Well, truth be told, I had really wanted my first post from our new digs to be about things other than this. But, as it often does, life had other plans.

Saturday night when I washed my face and got ready for bed, I noticed that my right eye seemed awfully red. I've had a head cold and headaches that I had attributed to the cold for the past few days and because of its history of illness, that eye is easily affected by those types of things or allergens in the air. I chalked it up to that and went to bed. When I woke up (WAY too early...THANKS A LOT ELLIE!) the next morning and stumbled sleepily from my dark bedroom into the bathroom; I noticed that everything was very dark and foggy on my right side. I quickly covered my left eye and held up a shampoo bottle to the right side to see if I could read anything. I could barely make out a few letters. Warning bells started going off in my head right away.

I called my friend whose husband is a doctor in the ICU at the Naval hospital here. After I explained to her what was going on I asked her if she would mind describing to her husband (who happened to be at work) what was going on and ask his opinion on whether I should go to the ER. It was Sunday after all and I knew from past experience that going to the ER on a weekend, or any time for that matter, would probably mean that the majority of my day was shot. My friend texted me back quickly and said that both her and her husband thought I should go to the hospital.

I made up excuses in my mind why I shouldn't. It's just the debris in the back of your eye. It's shifted again and that's why you can't see. But it's THE WEEKEND! It's your last day to have your husband around to help you unpack! sigh...not again.

My gut said I'd better go, and so for the third time in three years I grabbed my purse and file full of information on my medical history with Toxoplasmosis and drove myself to the ER. When I walked in, the nice but daft young man at the front desk asked what I was there for. "To check myself in," I replied.

"But, look at you, you're fiiiiiiiiine"

Boy, you better hold up 'fore I take off my shoe and whack you upside the head with it!

But instead I gave him a brief description of my medical history and told him they might want to go ahead and page the Opthamologist on call. They did not.

So, I sat and I waited and I waited and I sat, praying that the debris had just shifted. Finally, it was my turn and I was taken to a room where I waited to see the doctor. When he saw me, we went through my symptoms and he looked at my eye. "I'm going to page the Opthamologist on call, I'll be right back," He said. Yeah, I could've told you that. So I waited in blissful silence under a blanket that came out of a heated cabinet (LUXURIOUS!) and I actually even slept for a few minutes before they came and told me that I could walk upstairs to meet the eye doctor.

It's a strange and guilt-ridden feeling to be in a mostly empty hospital and meet a doctor who looks like you've just pulled him from a beach barbecue where he had been surfing. I sat in the chair that I have grown very familiar with over the last few years and we talked a little bit about my history and my eye. (For those of you who may be new to this here lil blog, you can read about it here and here.) He dilated my eyes and we went through the whole rigmarole of looking into the back of my eye.

He looked into my left eye and quickly said look up, look up and right, look right, look down and right, look down, look down and left until my eye had made a complete circle. Then he moved onto the right eye.
Look up....hmmmmmm
look up and right...long silence and my eye burned from the light he was shining into it.
Look right...more silence

I already know what he's seeing because this scene is all too familiar. It's something most of them read about in textbooks but never actually get to see live and in person. I remember sitting in Bethesda and all of doctors and teachers and parasite textbook writers hovering over me as I cradled a tiny Ari in my lap, waiting for their turn to have a look. I'll never forget one of them said in a thick accent, " It's really quite beautiful...if it wasn't so terrible."

Now here I was again, Except this time I sat alone with a doctor in a mostly empty hospital on a Sunday afternoon on a tiny island in the middle of a great big ocean. He pushed his chair back and looked at the papers on his desk. "Soooooo?" I asked

"It's definitely back, the toxo. And I can see that you have a cataract now forming from the scar tissue leftover from previous infections"

And then, despite my most courageous efforts to the contrary, I began to cry. I started to hold my breath as the edges of fat tears threatened to roll down my face, I knew he was going to want me to talk, that we needed to discuss what would happen now, but if I opened my mouth I wasn't sure what kind of sound was going to burst out of it. Slowly, I let the breath seep out from between my teeth, like a slow leak in a balloon. I filled my lungs again this time through my nose and even though I knew he was talking to me, I didn't hear a word of it.

Sometimes our first reactions are our most visceral, our most human. In those few moments after I heard the words I had dreaded and prayed against, all I could feel were waves of sadness. Why? Was it something I did? Did I not wash my hands enough? Was it all those steaks I ordered medium rare? Was it the mud pies I made when I was three? Was it the cat I had when I was eight? Was it, was it, was it? I don't know, and neither does anyone else.

And then, as I pushed the breath out through my teeth, I let it all go. All the sorrow, all the pain, all the questions, and along with them I let go of my eye. Dear God, be with me right now, I have no one here to hold my hand, so hold all of me in your arms. I'm afraid of gong blind, and I'm repulsed by cataracts in a thirty one year old eye, but... I trust you more than I'm afraid, so take all of it. The fear, the guilt, the sadness, and most importantly take the care of my eye into your hands. You can have them all, because you told me to cast all my cares upon you because you love me, and you told me to come boldly before the throne of grace, so here I am. Thanks. Invisible hugs. *Your favorite child, Jill.

And like always happens in those moments, I was given the strength to go on, but more importantly than that, I had peace in my heart. I asked the doctor what my options were and he told me that he would refer me to the retinal specialist on the island but that he was leaving the island the next day for a week and so I would have to refer to the optometrist in his office from then on. Or...there's the option of Med-evacuating you off the island to seek treatment elsewhere. The closest retinal specialist in San Diego. I then asked him if I could assume that this would continue happening to me. He said YES very matter of factly. I gulped and accepted this new reality.

I left his office armed with a handful of prescriptions, the names of which I was all too familiar. Prednisone, Sulfadiazine, Clindymiacin, and some drops for my eye (WELCOME BACK ROBOT EYE!). After we got them filled I had some blood drawn to monitor my white blood cell counts because two of the prescriptions, which they didn't have in stock in the hospital, can seriously affect my bone marrow. Jeremy came to pick me up because I couldn't see to drive from the dilating drops. I ordered him to drive directly to Yogurtland and don't even think about stopping anywhere else on the way. I then promptly filled the medium size cup (I was going to do the large, but really, why be a glutton, it's not like I have CANCER!) and put myself into a yogurt coma.

When we got home the opthamologist called to inform me that the retinal doc would be off island for one or two months but that he could still treat me when he got back, until then I could be under the care of the optometrist. It didn't take me long to reply to him with an emphatic: MED-EVAC! OK, he said, I'll start filling out the paperwork and the other doc can finish it when you come in tomorrow.

So, this morning I went back to the hospital and began the process of the Med-evac. In the meantime I was told to try and get the other two prescriptions filled somewhere else on the island. I called every. single. pharmacy. on this damn island and not one of them carries it. Can you hear me screaming now: MED-EVAC! I'm told I have a tentative appointment on Monday or Tuesday (states time) with the retinal doc, which means I will have to leave here sometime tomorrow. Jeremy is taking leave to stay with the girls and I hope they have a fun time with their daddy. Although I am leaving instructions for pizza and ice cream no more than twice a week. I have a feeling that I won't be able to get back in the house for all the empty pizza boxes when I return.

My mom is planning on meeting me in San Diego. THANKS MOM! So, that's that. I have accepted my apparent fate and I know that just like we killed it with powerful drugs last time, we'll do it again this time.

And now....a collection of photos chronicling a small portion of this crazy journey:

This is during my first round...I look pretty much the same right now, except I combed my eyebrows today. ;)

SO. SO. Pregnant. And on steroids. Who you calling a pirate?!?!

Now, if that a'int sexy, I just don't know what is. Hey Baby. How's about me, you and those chins get together sometime?

I've given a lot of thought to more children considering the fact that pregnancy seems to be a very opportunistic time for toxo. I look at pics like these and I tell you, even if I got ten cataracts and went totally blind (in ONE eye) it's totally worth it.

I mean seriously, who is this person? Someone very special, that's who!

And the rabbits were worth it and the cats were worth it and the ducks and ponies and doves and all the critters were worth it. The LOVE was worth it.

Sometimes in life (especially at Christmas) you need to just stop and eat the batter. Now just watch me go and get Salmonella, sheesh!